What is Sleep?
Sleep is absolutely essential for normal, healthy function. Sleep is a physical and mental resting state in which a person becomes relatively inactive and unaware of the environment. In essence, sleep is a partial detachment from the world, where most external stimuli are blocked from the senses.
Normal sleep is characterized by a general decrease in body temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate, and most other bodily functions. In contrast, the human brain never decreases its activity. Studies have shown that the brain is as active during sleep as it is when awake.
Sleep is not a waste of time. There are two basic theories why we need sleep:
Restorative - Sleep enables the body and mind to rejuvenate, reenergize, and restore. As a person sleeps, it is thought that the brain performs vital housekeeping tasks, such as organizing long-term memory, integrating new information, and repairing and renewing tissue, nerve cells and other biochemical’s. Sleep allows the body to rest and the mind to sort out past, present, and future activities and feelings.
Why is Sleep Important?
Adaptive - Sleep may have evolved as a protective adaptation -finding food in the daytime and hiding at night. Nearly every animal sleeps to some degree. Thus, it only makes sense that predators sleep more than animals that are prey. For humans, the amount and quality of sleep achieved is directly proportional to the amount and quality of the next day’s productivity.
Sleep is a necessary and vital biological function. It is essential to a person’s physical and emotional well-being. Studies have shown that without enough sleep, a person’s ability to perform even simple tasks declines dramatically.
The average sleep-deprived individual may experience impaired performance, irritability, lack of concentration, and daytime drowsiness. They are less alert, attentive, and unable to concentrate effectively.
Additionally, because sleep is linked to restorative processes in the immune system, sleep deprivation in a normal adult causes a biological response similar to the body fighting off an infection.
Persistent sleep deprivation can cause significant mood swings, erratic behavior, hallucinations, and in the most extreme, yet rare cases, death. The jury is still out on the long-term effects of sleep deprivation on health. Current research in this area is examining the effects of sleep deprivation on the immune system. With today’s increasingly on-the-go, around-the-clock society, more people than ever are sleep deprived. People need a wake-up call, literally, to become aware of how prevalent sleep deprivation is.
In fact, it is estimated that nearly 50% of the adult population in the United States is sleep deprived. This may be attributed to longer work hours and increased commute times. It appears the price of the boost in productivity is a reduction in sleep.
So, what is happening to all of these exhausted individuals? Many tragedies that have been linked to human error were due to exhaustion. Some historic examples of severe sleep deprivation include the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the NASA Challenger shuttle explosion, and the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Unfortunately, accidents can easily happen as the result of any amount of lost sleep.